The dispute underscored just how difficult negotiations over a long-term security partnership could be during the next year. The disagreement, like others before it, centers on the fundamental question of what will keep Afghans safe: U.S. officials say the local police program thwarts insurgents, but Karzai insists that it invites attacks.
The broader Afghan interpretation of the troop withdrawal, which Afghan officials said they believed would happen within weeks, would derail much of the Special Operations forces’ mission in Afghanistan and halt the expansion of the fastest-
growing Afghan security force, one that has cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
About 4,500 Special Operations personnel are charged with training the Afghan Local Police, or ALP, a force of 18,500 villagers who are armed, paid and taught to defend their communities against encroaching insurgents. The force, which operates in 94 districts, was slated to expand to 26,000 members by the end of 2014, with units dedicated to securing remote locations where traditional Afghan forces are weak or nonexistent.
Although Karzai approved the creation of the local police forces, he has long expressed a general opposition to the presence of Western troops in Afghan villages, saying they are often a source of instability and tension and could be easily replaced with an all-Afghan force.
“Our position is that such trainings should not take place in the Afghan villages,” Karzai spokesman Aimal Faizi said in an interview Monday. “The presence of foreign troops puts the lives of villagers in danger by attracting [insurgent] attacks. If Afghan forces are unable at this stage to take control of villages, how will they do so after international troops leave?”
A prized U.S. program
Ending the village-level training would mean the termination of one of the U.S. military’s most valued missions in Afghanistan. Gen. John R. Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, told Congress last year that the ALP is “an important mechanism for holding the ground in Afghanistan.”
Col. Thomas Collins, a spokesman for the NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan, said the training is “important to ensure that the ALP continue to grow in capability and effectiveness, and that the overall security situation across Afghanistan continues to improve.”
U.S. officials said they are pushing for an interpretation of the Obama-Karzai pledge that would allow for the ALP training program to continue.